Gene Westhoven, owner of Midwest Wood Trim in Napoleon, Ohio, is working to improve his margins, broaden his market and build an OEM and wholesale customer base. To do that he bought a new gang rip saw and more space to accommodate it.
"The gang rip is the most expensive part of the system and it's what can slow you up, so we put our money there," says Westhoven. "We can handle three times the work we did under one roof. We went from a 22,000-square-foot building to a 42,000-square-foot building."
The older facility, which consisted of two Quonset huts, didn't have the room to house the new equipment. "It wasn't going to work to our advantage. We wanted conveyors to handle the materials," says Westhoven. "Conveyors are quicker and save a lot of time."
The equipment was placed into the new facility to specifically accommodate the new Paul's gang rip saw so that plant operations would run as smoothly as possible. But the move into the new building went anything but smoothly, even though a significant amount of preplanning had been done.
A complicated move?
"The move was complicated," says Westhoven. "Production was down for six weeks. We lost two of our biggest customers they just gave up on us. And we lost a lot in sales."
It wasn't just one thing that went wrong it was a number of problems, one after another. The first major problem was a delay in getting the machine shipped from overseas. Then additional ampage had to be added to accommodate the new equipment.
While the company was still in the process of moving, moulding was loaded onto racks placed adjacent to each other. "They started loading all the mouldings on one side and that caused all the racks to fall on the floor with the domino effect. It took three days to pick everything up. All the mouldings were splintered, and the racks were bent up," says Westhoven.
Then there was the issue with the door. The original two garage doors were removed and one 23-foot-wide door was installed. But the wrong automatic lifter was installed and it took a few days to get the correct one. In the meantime, all materials had to be brought in through a walk-in door.
"You need to have a good plan, with resources to accommodate any setbacks. The architect only planned for the gang rip saw, and the specific needs of the saw," says Westhoven, "but he didn't take into consideration the other utilities needed to operate the equipment."
Westhoven gives a lot of credit for getting the flow and layout of the equipment right to his son and partner Brad Westhoven. It was the one part of the move with no problems.
The logistics of setting up the equipment was difficult, says Westhoven. "You have to take into consideration all aspects of plant operations. For example, if you're going to stack a 16-foot piece of moulding onto a pallet, where should your electrical outlets come down from the ceiling, and are they going to be in your way when you need to move material?"
One of the major differences in the new Paul Saws' gang rip saw system is set-up time. With the old gang rip saw, saw blades and spacers had to be constantly adjusted for different sized cuts. The process took one employee about an hour of time.
"The advantage of this machine is that it only takes four blades, because the blades move on the arbor automatically, so they don't need to be moved manually," Westhoven says.
The only time blades are removed is every three weeks so blades can be re-sharpened. The computer controls the movement of the blades into place. The flexibility of the new saw allows the company to run smaller amounts of moulding for special projects and smaller runs when needed, without significantly disrupting processes.
"We noticed a decrease in sawdust sales from last year. This will cut the board so all pieces can be used, instead of sending good material through the grinder," says Westhoven.
Ripping made simple
"When we were in our old plant, the most important man in the plant was the guy at the saw. He could make you or break you," says Westhoven. "Now I can take somebody off the street and he can run the new gang rip saw."
Material comes in as rough boards, kiln-dried to 6 percent moisture and run through a Mereen-Johnson double-headed planer before it proceeds down a conveyor to the new rip saw.
"The board goes under a laser sensor that tells the computer on the gang rip how wide and thick the board is, and cuts the board to get the most optimal cut," says Westhoven.
There are 50 or 100 cutting lists pre-programmed into the computer, from which it chooses to make blanks, says Westhoven. The computer moves the blades in place for the cuts, and figures out what it can optimally cut.
"When the laser light is checking the board for size, the operator can see if the laser light is going through a knot or imperfection," he says. "The operator can then adjust the laser, if necessary, and the computer can recalculate how the board is being cut. The operator does have input, but the computer makes the final decision."
The blanks travel on a conveyor to a grading section where both sides are checked and then proceed to either the Paul cutoff saw or to the resaw to be cut again. The cutoff saw is also computerized and gets directions for the finished length from the ripsaw system computer. Parts then travel down another conveyor to carts according to their size. Boards that are to be re-sawn are stacked on a cart and taken to another department to be cut. Once boards are cut to size, they are moved to the Weinig moulders at the other end of the building.
Not much changed in the way the profiles were processed with the moulders.
"About everything we make here is what the customer orders time and time again, probably the same thing," says Westhoven. "We have accumulated 1,500 profiles in the 24 years we have been in business. Some profiles might have 20 different versions, depending on the thickness or width the customer requests."
The savings and efficiency achieved with the new equipment led the company to merge the first and second shifts.
"We were running second shift with a minimal amount of employees, with only a fourth of the equipment running. Eliminating the extra eight hours of electricity saved us money on our electric bill," says Westhoven.
In terms of future growth, the equipment and building were planned with growth in mind. "We designed the equipment to do three times what it's doing now. We only have to add another trunk line onto the dust system and attach it to another moulder," he says. "We do have the power and amps to add more equipment, another grinder or moulder."
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